/ 3 November 2017

Buthelezi bows out … at long last

Goodbye: Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP caused chaos in the 1980s and 1990s
Goodbye: Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP caused chaos in the 1980s and 1990s

Monday. The inevitable, it seems, has occurred. It’s over. Not Arsene Wenger’s once illustrious term as Arsenal coach, but Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s seemingly century-long reign as president of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Shenge, as his followers call the man who started the IFP as Inkatha in 1975, has finally thrown in the towel. Buthelezi (89) will stand down as party president at the IFP’s national conference, which will finally be held in Ulundi later this year. The IFP last held a conference in 2013. Democrats at work, and all that.

Shenge’s offered to stand down before. Several times. Usually just before a younger party leader with the talent, ideas and support to take over the party from him was preparing to challenge him. While whipping up the amabutho, just like he used to do back in the 1980s when he ran the KwaZulu bantustan, to make sure that their candidacy was promptly nipped in the bud. Ask former secretary general Ziba Jiyane. Or former national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi. Or former youth brigade secretary Sibusiso Bhengu.

This time, things seem a little different though. This time around the Last Boy Scout has anointed a chosen successor, Velenkosini Hlabisa, the IFP’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, to take over from him.Not the more popular IFP deputy president Mzamo Buthelezi, elected unopposed the last time party members got to vote. For the first time in more than 40 years — four decades — Buthelezi seems willing to stand down and let somebody else take over from him. Unless he plans to run the party by remote control from KwaPhindangene through Hlabisa. Stranger things have happened.

I spent much of my early career covering Buthelezi. And the handiwork of his thugs. The campaign by Buthelezi and his National Party bosses to forcibly “incorporate” the bulk of the townships into the KwaZulu bantustan was my introduction to him and his politics, a weird concoction of feudalism, federalism and the cult of personality.

I’d rather Buthelezi had stepped down around 30 years ago. That would have been better for all. Except him, of course. These days he looks like somebody’s granddad with feathers in his hair. He is. But back in the day Buthelezi was the most dangerous man on the East Coast. This is the cat who delayed — and tried to derail — the 1994 elections. Stalled the transition to democracy at gunpoint to increase his stakes in a post-apartheid South Africa. This man commanded an unofficial army, funded and equipped by the regime. He wasn’t shy to use it either.

Thousands of lives were lost in the war between Inkatha and the United Democratic Front in the 1980s and early 1990s. Inkatha might have looked comical in those Baden-Powell Boy Scout uniforms, but they were the apartheid regime’s deadliest stormtroopers.The KwaZulu legislature was a farce, a theatrical con aimed at justifying apartheid ideology, but to challenge its “authority,” and that of Buthelezi, was literally to risk death.

Then again, even if Buthelezi had stood down, the Nats could have found another stooge to fight a proxy war on their behalf.

Inkatha hasn’t prospered in a democratic dispensation. It wasn’t designed to. At its peak it ruled through coercion and violence. And by the not-so-hidden hand of the apartheid security forces. It was always going to wither and die without either.

I hit the TV remote. The wit ous are marching against farm murders. Well, not exactly marching. Abelungu are blocking the freeway with their bakkies and 4x4s. There’s beards, veldskoens. There’s a whole lot of Muppets wearing IFP-style khaki shorts and shirts. The camera pans. There’s a crew of wit ous trying to look gevaarlik. They’ve got another relic of the past, those old-regime South African flags. They’re not burning the flag in a sign that they’re part of the democratic project. They’re waving them.

I don’t get this. Sit around stewing about democracy and black people with that shit hanging on the wall. Hoping for opportunities to whip it out, like a scab-ridden pervert outside a school gate, the first chance they get. This is stupid. You claim white farmers are being targeted by black people but you “march” carrying the symbol of the regime that oppressed and murdered black people for wanting to be treated like human beings. That’s more than stupid, that’s twisted.

The stupidity doesn’t end there. What’s so special about farmers that they in particular shouldn’t be murdered? What about farm workers? Boilermakers? Journalists? Homeless people? Priests?Why not march against the murder of human beings, rather than, again, showing the inability to see yourself, and others, as human beings.